For a couple of weeks now I have been resisting the urge to comment on the sudden argument over the "f-word"- no, not the naughty finger kind, but the one that rhymes with "maggot." The one that people have been using for years to refer to someone like me. It seems like this word is getting a bunch of press lately whenever someone uses it. For those of you who have been living under a rock (and it's amazing that you get such a great Internet connection there, I must say!), let's recap shall we? We shall.
*On the set of Grey's Anatomy last October, Isaiah Washington, during a physical fight, refered to then closeted T.R. Knight using this word. At the Golden Globes in January, he denied it ever happened, then met with GLSEN and GLAAD to get sensitivity, then entered rehab for his homo-hating ways.
*Last month, a 72 year-old man started singing on the bus he was riding with his niece. An annoyed fellow passenger, asked him if he was gay. When this was confirmed, the man followed him off the bus and beat him with a pipe while reportedly calling the elderly man a 'f*gg*t' . After a few days in a coma, the gay senior died after receiving the last rites.
*This past weekend, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Anne Coulter tried to make an unfunny joke about the Isaiah Washington incident and then called John Edward the same name. (I have discovered since that it's not her first time doing this.) Last night, she defended her statement insisting she didn't mean to offend anyone. No, rather, Coulter says she used a "schoolyard word" for "wuss, nerd".
*Today I read about a woman in San Francisco (of all places!) who saw a gay couple, rolled down her window and threw fruit at them (Get it? Because they are 'fruits!' Clever!). Then she drove by a second time and yelled the f-word at them. She later told police she "wasn't aware" they were gay. (Again with the cleverness!)
The reason I've been putting off posting about this insult onslaught is that I didn't really have anything new to add this discussion. These are sad/bad events and everyone seems to say the same predictable things about them. However, John Amaechi's (a gay former NBA player and HRC spokesperson) comments on the subject recently changed my mind. He said many things but the statement that captured my attention was "Words have power."
This reminded me of a poem I came across on a friend's MySpace blog. Written by Countée Cullen (1903-1946), it's called Incident.
Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee;
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.
Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."
I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That's all that I remember.
After reading this poem, I remembered vividly a similar occurrance that happened to me at university. At the time, I wasn't "out" to myself or others. I clearly remember sitting talking animatedly to one of my close friends. Now usually I took great pains to keep my voice low and my hand gestures at a minimum. However this day, I was particularly excited about something and forgot myself. The jock that was sitting on the chair across from us, suddenly threw down his paper and disgustedly said to me "Are you a f*gg*t or what?"
Time stopped for me at that moment. I was uncharacteristically speechless and felt suddenly very vulnerable. I do remember my friend yelling at him to leave me alone and she and I left for the cafeteria. I thanked her for that and even now I am touched that someone stuck up for me at what was a defining moment in my life. After that, I started asking questions to myself about how others see me and how I saw myself. I've already posted about the rest of my journey so I'll end there.
My hope is that with these recent events, our society can start a dialogue about bigotry towards this certain group of people. Why is this particular word so offensive? Why do some gay people use it? Is it protected by the First Amendment? Is it "hate speech?" Or, after all is said and done, "it's only words?"